Covid-19: Schools row, record redundancies and Oxford vaccine story

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Here are five things you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic this Tuesday morning. We'll have another update for you at 18:00 GMT.

1. Schools ordered to stay open

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has told a London council it must withdraw its advice to schools to close early for Christmas or face legal action. Greenwich Council had told heads to switch to online learning from today given the surge in infections in the capital, and two other boroughs had followed suit. But Mr Williamson said such moves were not in the best interests of children and therefore, he had to act. It comes as watchdog Ofsted has voiced concern about the impact of isolation due to Covid on children's wellbeing.

Image source, PA Media

2. Christmas questions

Mr Williamson's intervention comes as the whole of Greater London - Greenwich included - prepares to enter the highest level of coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday, along with parts of Essex and South Hertfordshire. Our charts show area-by-area what's going on with infections, and our health correspondent explains what a new strain of the virus might have to do with the spike. All of this is raising questions about the relaxation of rules over Christmas. Scientists are very worried people from hotspot areas will spread the virus when they travel. Pressure is beginning to build on the government to review the plans, but No 10 says it doesn't intend to do that.

3. Economic hardship

Figures released this morning show redundancies rose to a record high of 370,000 in the three months to October. The unemployment rate rose to 4.9% for the same period. It comes as BBC analysis of figures from the Office for National Statistics show women under the age of 30 have been hit especially hard by the economic impact of coronavirus. That age group has seen the sharpest increase in unemployment benefit claims. Our business reporter Lora Jones has spoken to some of them, including Rosalyn Jackson, an actress, who told us she felt guilt for turning to universal credit. We've also heard from some of the youngest workers - apprentices who were just starting out when the pandemic hit.

Image source, Rosalyn Jackson
Image caption,
Rosalyn Jackson wasn't eligible to be furloughed and had to use up all of her savings

4. Oxford vaccine story

Vaccination programmes are under way in the UK and elsewhere, but the approval of a second jab, particularly the one being developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, would give that mission a big boost - as we explain. Regulators are currently assessing its safety and efficacy - this is how - and hopes are high that they'll give the green light soon. BBC medical editor Fergus Walsh has followed the Oxford vaccine's journey. Bogus reports, accidental finds... read the story of the jab and the people behind it.

Media caption,
Elisa Granato was the first volunteer to be injected

5. 'Don't give up'

Charlie Mackesy is a cartoonist and author of the book The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. During lockdown, he began creating drawings to cheer on key workers and his messages of hope captured the public's imagination. They've been displayed in hospital wards, on garden gates, and in school corridors, and turned into t-shirts for Comic Relief. Charlie tells us about his year and gives one more message: "Remember that the storm ends."

Media caption,
Cartoonist Charlie Mackesy dedicated his drawings to the people on the front line against Covid

And don't forget...

Find more information, advice and guides on our coronavirus page.

Plus, our lives have changed dramatically this year in so many ways. In twelve charts, and with the help of four of our correspondents, we set out some of them.

Image source, BBC

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